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SWP 9.0 phono preamplifier
as reviewed by Robert H. Levi
I worked for a year to get one of these phono stages to review even though
Greg Weaver already examined it in great detail in these pages. This makes the 9th phono stage to come under my thumb in the past three years and I was not disappointed. More flexible than the Cary 302 for just $600 more investment and you'll come shockingly close to the Art Reference Phono at twice the cost! With big dynamics and endless gain, you can power up even a low output cartridge to SACD level dynamics. No kidding. Plus, suave is its middle name. The 9.0 SE is the tube phono stage that ably climbs the quality and value ladder and will satisfy even the most particular vinyl fanatics.
From the ModWright Website:
Recently, I have been amazed at what great mono sounds like. The mono facilities on the ModWright are just plain stunning. Reducing distortion while enhancing musicality, the 9.0 is killer. I spent an evening listening to Masterpieces by Ellington, CL825, Columbia Mono from 1950. It is you are there lovely and true ear candy. The 9.0 breathed new jump and jive into this classic LP and reduced the noise level to nearly zero, and this was with a stereo cartridge!
I also enjoyed Duke Ellington, Bal Masque, CL1282 Mono from about 1958. Bold and brassy, this album was terrific. It sounded almost like stereo with wonderful depth. The mono facilities are well thought out here.
On to stereo! Zane Musa, Introducing Zane Musa from Straight Ahead Records, #102, a triumph of musicality from the great Bernie Grundman sounds alive. You get cymbal delicacy combined with bass fiddle punch and superb alto sax sound from this young new up and comer talent. It is recorded live and the 9.0 makes the most of it. I don't detect the slight lack of bottom extension Greg mentioned. In fact, it's hard to find much of anything missing here. You get wide, deep soundstaging, lots of snap and drive, neutrality from top to bottom, and a reach out and touch it performance. It may have 7 tubes on board, but other than the smoothness and airiness associated with tube circuits, I hear none of the added richness and blurriness other tube phono stages often have.
I am not a technician, but I'd love to know how the 9.0 has so much gain. I can easily power my ZYX Airy 3 low output MC cartridge from the moving magnet stage! When I switch to the moving coil stage and set the impedance at 100 ohms, wow. My meters on my E.A.R. 912 preamp nearly peg. Maybe this is why there is such beautiful purity and tactileness from the ModWright. There are no transformers used in the audio circuit.
I decided to use cables in this review typical of someone who would buy this phono section. Consequently, I employed the new Harmonic Technology Pro Silway 3+ single ended interconnects and the Fantasy Power Cord. These are priced under $500 per meter and beat the pants off almost anything under $1000 per meter for musicality and neutrality. The HT combination with the ModWright was a joy from the first note. With 40% silver and 60% copper, the HT interconnects sounded just right alive and sparkling with the elegant, colorful, and dynamic presentation of the 9.0.
I am particularly pleased with the ModWright's flexibility for the owner to adjust impedances without taking the preamp apart. I hate that. It's easy and very convenient to do. I also like the basic but required toggle switches for all necessary functions and the time delay turn on feature like the expensive ARC gear. I would have liked balanced outputs, but that's just me. I am having a hard time criticizing the ModWright. Oh yes, it's phase inverting… so hopefully you have a phase switch on your preamp.
Imaging is so very good with the ModWright. Classical vocals and small ensembles sound very “in room." Symphonic works and opera are dramatic and dynamic. You'll fill the room and, maybe, your house as well with grand performances from the 9.0. The touch of tube textural nuance is very welcome, but never intrusive. The 9.0 is a truly modern design and very sonically sophisticated and neutral.
If you are a classical fan, get a copy of the Speaker's Corner, Aaron Copland Appalachian Spring etc., SR 90246, Dorati/LSO, 35 MM Film Recording. This will blow you away. So very real and elegant, the ModWright brings you to front of orchestra for the performance. One of the best Mercury efforts and a stellar Speaker's Corner production. I heard no veiling, no gray mist, no glare or etch, no nothing between you and the music. Well done ModWright!
Finally from resident genius Dan Wright of ModWright comes a phono preamp you can take home to mother! You own the vinyl; he has the phono section for you. It's the ModWright SWP 9.0SE and it looks and sounds fabulous. With very fine flexibility and a delicious and dynamic sound, it is easily worth its $2995 price tag. It would be hard to replicate this baby's performance under $4000, maybe more. Always known for way over the top great value and sound, ModWright has built the 9.0 from the ground up for discriminating audiophiles. I love it and I'm really picky about LP sound! Very highly recommended. Robert H. Levi